Columbia Basin College and its fellow community colleges across the state need an additional $182 million in 2015-17 to fund their operations, CBC President Rich Cummins told lawmakers Tuesday.
The bulk of the money would fund basic education for adults, services to keep students on track and in the classroom, support for science, technology, engineering and math training, and salary raises for faculty and staff, Cummins said.
All those initiatives serve a vital need in allowing community colleges such as CBC to support the state’s economy, help workers and employers and maintain an education system that the state relies on.
“If you closed all the community colleges, the state’s economy would collapse,” Cummins said.
An additional $10 million statewide is needed to get students up to speed in math and science, Cummins said. That led state Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, to praise that effort and CBC’s past ability setting up training programs and other initiatives to meet workforce needs.
State Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-College Place, welcomed Cummins’ suggestion to give people in workforce training programs more time to finish their education.
CBC is increasing support services to students to get them to graduation but Cummins said another $18.5 million is needed to continue those efforts. Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, said he was on board.
“I love this idea of mentoring, of guiding people through,” he said.
The state’s 34 community colleges have a $619 million budget for the current academic year. That’s down from the nearly $1 billion the colleges received annually before the national recession in 2008.
State lawmakers didn’t oppose anything Columbia Basin College officials proposed Tuesday, but they aren’t sure how the Legislature is going to pay for the requests along with the rest of the state’s obligations — particularly the state Supreme Court’s order to fully fund K-12 education.
“I’m not sure if we’re going to get away with not finding another (revenue) source to meet all these needs,” Walsh said.
Recent forecasts show the state’s revenue growing by more than $2.5 billion through the biennium, but that won’t cover the K-12 funding mandate. The Supreme Court has put increasing pressure on the Legislature to properly fund basic education, going so far as to say it will suspend tax breaks or throw out the state’s budget to ensure there is money available.
There’s also the state’s other myriad obligations such as mental health care, low-income health care and pension expenses.
The lawmakers were critical of the court’s order. Brown and Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland, said that if the court wants to take on the budget, perhaps the Legislature should help the court address its case backlog.
Klippert said education is important but that he and other lawmakers have other things to consider.
“The state Supreme Court is out of their lane,” he said. “They don’t write the budget, the legislature writes the budget.”
Walsh indicated some officials are weighing what type of taxes would be least objectionable to voters. Haler said there is no need for a tax increase and the state needs to tighten its own systems, particularly when it comes to welfare and other social services.
“It’s going to be a balancing act,” Walsh said.